In Asia-Pacific, UNDP offices lead efforts towards Gender Equality, reinforced by a flagship Gender Seal Programme

By Mahtab Haider and Yenny Widjaja

June 9, 2023

Nearly all country offices in the Asia-Pacific region are committed to ensuring that 70% of their program expenditures directly contribute to gender equality results. The UNDP approach sees gender equality as a guiding principle for all our development interventions, not just the targeted investments in gender-focused and women-specific projects. A systematic effort made by COs participating in the gender seal certification program has seen a marked improvement in how gender-sensitive new programmes are.

In Asia and the Pacific, UNDP Country Offices are rising to the challenge of attaining gender equality within and outside the organisation. A majority of offices in the region are showing an uptick in efforts to integrate gender into all aspects of their work. 

UNDP country offices worldwide are tracking their performance on gender equality with the help of a flagship Gender Seal programme that measures progress on wide-ranging criteria including management and staffing inside the office, and the design and impact of UNDP’s interventions on the ground.

In late 2022, Sri Lanka joined Indonesia in the ranks of Gold-certified offices in Asia in the Gender Seal programme. Silver- and bronze-certified offices in the wider region include Nepal, Pakistan, the Pacific Office in Fiji and Timor Leste. 

In 2022, UNDP launched a new Gender Equality Strategy 2022-2025 which raised the bar at all levels, and sets down an ambitious agenda to work towards gender-equal economic, social, and political structures.

“Gender equality is a fundamental human right, but also a powerful catalyst for human development, justice and sustainable economic progress,” said Kanni Wignaraja, Assistant Secretary-General and UNDP Director for Asia-Pacific. 

Women have a critical role to play in all of the SDGs, with many targets specifically recognizing women’s equality and empowerment as both the objective, and as part of the solution. 

“My congratulations to Sri Lanka and Indonesia, and to all the countries in Asia and the Pacific who have made significant strides in the Gender Seal programme,” Ms. Wignaraja said. 

“I view the Gender Seal as inspiring fundamental conversations and actions through which each of our teams examines what drives shared values, practices and organizational behaviours and aspires to reach the highest standards,” Ms. Wignaraja added.

“I’m very excited to see the incredibly high levels of engagement the Gender Seal Country Offices in the Asia-Pacific region are showing in this round, said Raquel Lagunas, Head of Gender at UNDP. 

“For over 10 years, the Gender Seal has been the foundation for UNDP’s work on gender equality by starting the process of transformation at home,” said Lagunas.

“Transforming gender inequalities both internally and externally remains the driving force for the Gender Seal.” 

Here’s how Asia-Pacific countries are faring on the seven broad criteria used by UNDP’s Gender Seal Certification. 

Building Expertise and Awareness

Countries engaged in the gender seal process are investing in learning and expertise, by formalising gender-related positions in org-charts and investing in learning to sensitize all UNDP staff on gender perspectives. 

Lao PDR, Pakistan, and Mongolia are country offices that have moved gender-related posts into the formal core structure of decision-making as a part of the seal certification process. 

Many country offices are reworking their learning strategy to include gender perspectives as requirements for all staff. Gender mainstreaming skills have seen an uptick among program/project staff in all COs, including Iran, India, Pakistan, Lao, Bangladesh, Thailand, Maldives, and Nepal. 

Sri Lanka has conducted several rounds of learning on challenging topics such as gender in operations. Nepal transformed the office’s learning platform to cover a systematic perspective building on diversity and inclusion.


Gender Perspectives in Management 

Nearly all country offices in the Asia-Pacific region are committed to ensuring that 70% of their program expenditures directly contribute to gender equality results. 

The UNDP approach sees gender equality as a guiding principle for all our development interventions, not just the targeted investments in gender-focused and women-specific projects. A systematic effort made by COs participating in the gender seal certification program has seen a marked improvement in how gender-sensitive new programmes are.

The gender seal framework requires COs to build a strategy on gender equality in the office, ensuring staff KPIs contain gender goals, that there is a gender task force to drive the process together with senior management, and clear financial measures are applied to track gender-responsive and transformative results. 

Bhutan, Nepal, Thailand, Samoa, India, and Lao PDR are in the vanguard in these respects with gender task forces actively leading the process of gender mainstreaming under the leadership of senior managers in those countries. The Country Office leadership at UNDP Nepal have introduced gender-related metrics into their own performance goals. 

Enabling Environment

All country offices in Asia-Pacific have implemented a Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse and Sexual Harassment (PSEASH) action plan to create safer workplaces. The Philippines is one of the examples where a focal point is on board to ensure that all allegations of sexual harassment and SEA are responded to swiftly, appropriately, and effectively. UNDP Sri Lanka has had a disability specialist review the efforts of the CO to be more inclusive – particularly to enable the office to be more inclusive of people with disabilities. 


Communications and Knowledge Management

UNDP offices are globally active in advocating for gender equality as a Sustainable Development Goal. Countries participating in the Gender Seal programme are tracking their content plans to ensure that at least 15% or more posts relate to gender equality. 

The Fiji Multi-Country Office is one of many that meet that criteria and have created guidance on Gender-responsive Social Media Posts. In the past 12 months, Fiji has produced six Knowledge Products to promote gender equality across various thematic issues, such as an anti-corruption toolkit, governance for resilient development in the pacific, Stockholm+50 Women Consultations in Fiji, and blogs that translate that technical knowledge into more accessible formats. 

On the path to their Gold-status, Sri Lanka has produced a reference guide for government counterparts on cross-cutting gender indicators for the Sustainable Development Goals. Sri Lanka also produced a policy brief on gender and climate change to support evidence-based advocacy. 


Aligning Programmes and Projects with UNDP’s Global Gender Strategy

The Gender Seal journey requires countries to have their development interventions guided by global strategies and frameworks. 

UNDP Pakistan has added a gender portfolio as a dedicated priority in their new Country Programme Document – the agreement with the government that guides the agency’s work in a country. 

Fiji, Samoa and Mongolia have conducted a portfolio review on gender that puts monitoring systems in place to assess how effectively our work is contributing to gender equality. 

During the seal journey, country offices ensure all project documents have substantive gender analysis and meet gender programming guidelines. UNDP Vietnam developed the SOP for Local Project Appraisal Committee (LPAC) process, where the gender checklist for the mainstreaming project is available. As a result, gender inclusion can be assured from the project planning and design stage. It is similar to Malaysia, where the country office has improved its project management process to include gender in the project cycle.


Partnerships with key national actors for gender equality goals

UNDP Thailand engages actively with women’s organizations and groups at national and grass root levels to promote inclusive and green growth. The office also works with several organizations representing lesbians, transwomen, and transmen to promote the rights of LGBTQI people. 

Under the SPOTLIGHT initiative, UNDP Samoa continues to promote the protection of women from gender-based violence and the agency’s role as convener in the country to advocate on this issue. 

UNDP Bangladesh is collaborating with the private sector to provide income-generating skills and job placement to women. This collaboration was to facilitate decent work for underprivileged women. Collaboration with private sector is also seen in India to support the sustainable business opportunities for women, and in Bhutan to raise awareness of how gender inequality affects businesses. 

UNDP India is working with the government in reviewing the National Multidimensional Poverty Index estimation methodology, data sources, and global best practices to develop short- and long-term recommendations to improve robustness of index from gender lens.

Mongolia works with the government to promote women’s leadership and political participation, and partnership with government in Lao has strengthened access to justice of GBV survivors.

In Lao PDR, the CO has begun working together with key line ministries beyond the traditional women’s machinery. For instance, in the efforts to strengthen government’s response to GBV, UNDP Lao PDR engaged the Ministry of Justice to create an SOP.

Nepal collaborated with the Advertisement Board of Nepal, a government entity to help the industry be more gender-responsive.


Results and Impact: measuring our contributions to gender equality

In the past three years, 18 countries in the region have started tracking their development results for their impact on gender equality, overseen by an independent evaluator.

In Fiji, the multi-country office has contributed to increasing the number of women in politics through its advocacy of a new electoral bill in Vanuatu. UNDP China continues to campaign for women’s participation in technology, leading to conducting the regional study to support evidence-based advocacy in this area.

The PNG Government’s public commitment to addressing gender-based violence is seen to be linked to UNDP’s advocacy on the issue. With UNDP’s support, a permanent parliamentary committee in GEWE and GBV is established.  

In India, a UNDP programme worked with the handloom, handicrafts, and agriculture industries, where 80% of the impacted community were women entrepreneurs and producers. This project has provided confidence to women entrepreneurs in their ability to scale their businesses. 

“While the 2021-2023 results are currently being assessed, RBAP offices have already demonstrated transformational results - in particular UNDP Fiji MCO, UNDP Pakistan, and UNDP Sri Lanka, which are all veterans of the Gender Seal programme,” said Raquel Lagunas. 

Throughout RBAP we do see ongoing challenges with strong traditional and patriarchal norms that tend to favor the status quo and resist change, Ms Lagunas explained. 

“However, senior managers and many committed team members in RBAP are responding to the challenges and putting strong Gender Focal Teams and resources in place, notably in the 17 Seal offices,” she said. 


Mahtab Haider is a Communications Specialist at UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Asia-Pacific 

Yenny Widjaja, Gender Specialist, Gender Seal Coordinator for Asia-Pacific